Eisenhower in War and Peace

By Jean Edward Smith

10,218 ratings - 3.98* vote

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Christian Science Monitor • St. Louis Post-Dispatch In his magisterial bestseller FDR, Jean Edward Smith gave us a fresh, modern look at one of the most indelible figures in American history. Now this peerless biographer returns with a new life of Dwight D. Eisenhower that is as full, rich, and revealing as anything ever wri NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Christian Science Monitor • St. Louis Post-Dispatch In his

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Book details

Hardcover, 976 pages
February 21st 2012 by Random House
140006693X (ISBN13: 9781400066933)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


My ongoing exploration of presidential biographies led me to explore the life of Dwight D. Eisenhower, as depicted by Jean Edward Smith. With a preponderance of information, Smith is able to develop a fairly comprehensive look at the man who rose to greatness as the Supreme Allied Commander in the European Theatre during the Second World War. This preceded taking the reins of domestic power as he led America in the early stages of Cold War aggression. As the title suggests, Eisenhower was a man who flourished in a period of war, but also thrived during a period of renewed peace. Both are highly important to the man and his legacy, while permitting the reader to visualise the contrasts. Told with a strong narrative and seamless style, Smith is able to present his arguments effectively while entertaining the reader throughout. A wonderful piece of biographical writing for those curious about this most unique man.

As with many who eventually found themselves in the Oval Office, Eisenhower lived a life of poverty in the late 19th century, held together with family love and dedication. Raised in rural Kansas, Eisenhower excelled scholastically, but was not afraid of a little hard work and dirt under his fingernails. After an almost accidental acceptance to West Point, Eisenhower found his niche with the regimented nature of a military education that promoted both conformity and individual thinking. West Point fuelled Eisenhower's ascendency within the US military and led to a highly structured future four decades. As Smith illustrates, Eisenhower could not only follow orders given to him, but became adept at leading and harnessing decision-making into productive output. His career in the military began with a small family in tow, headed by his wife, Mamie, whose prominent family had high hopes for Eisenhower. While Eisenhower was ushered around, from Washington to Paris and even to the Philippines, Mamie played military wife as she acclimated to a life of constant change. Sometimes accompanying him to his posts and at other times remaining behind with her family, Mamie developed a relationship with her husband that would be tested throughout their marriage. As Eisenhower found himself with more responsibility, he rose through the ranks and continued receiving plum postings. It was during these secondments that Eisenhower grew into the military powerhouse that would be the cornerstone of his ultimate military claim to fame. While Eisenhower worked hard, Smith recounts numerous occasions when Ike enjoyed the finer aspects of the powerful positions, some of which appeared to be quite extravagant. When the Nazis commenced their dominance in Europe, President Roosevelt stood firm with America's stance of isolationist behaviour, much to the chagrin of Eisenhower, who felt duty bound to protect those who were being overrun. After Pearl Harbour, US forces entered the war on two fronts, with Eisenhower taking up position as one of the highest ranking members in the European Theatre. With his past time in Paris and liaising with some of the most eminent political and military officials in the West, he was soon offered the position of Supreme Allied Commander, tasked not only with pushing back the Nazis, but saving France from Vichy clutches and liberating those areas overrun by the German military juggernaut. As Smith explores in numerous chapters though the middle portion of the biography, Eisenhower had his fingerprints over many of the key offensives that helped push the Nazis back and earned much respect by all those with whom he came into contact, including D-Day, which was the greatest military gamble of the entire war. However, in the aftermath of saving Europe, Eisenhower could look out over the terrain and see that he had made a difference doing what he loved, organizing military efforts in hopes of bringing peace to the region. Smith repeatedly shows Eisenhower's abilities as a man of war, though never an instigator. This would prove a key character trait in the years to come. Eisenhower's presence in a warring world proved important, though it was not the only situation in which he excelled.

After a forty year service in the US military, many would likely want to retire to a quiet life. As Smith illustrates, Eisenhower had no interest in this approach, choosing instead to let himself be lured into a prominent civilian post as President of Columbia University. Perhaps a precursor to a political future that paralleled Woodrow Wilson, Eisenhower's time at the university was short-lived, using it as a stepping stone to the political realm, when one of the major parties came calling. New York Governor Thomas Dewey wasted no time trying to prime Eisenhower for a White House run. After some key political maneuvering, Eisenhower surrounded himself with strong-willed men who helped use his military popularity to sculpt a hero persona for the electorate. Choosing Senator Richard Nixon as his running mate after securing the 1952 Republican presidential nomination might have been one of the worst political decisions Eisenhower made, though Smith chooses to recount some of the famed foibles, including the Checkers speech, which almost cost Tricky Dick the vice-presidency. For a man who had never dabbled in formal political activities beforehand, Smith argues that Eisenhower had been around political figures for much of his military career, including Roosevelt, de Gaulle, and Churchill. After a landslide victory in November, Eisenhower was able to transition nicely from the military battlefield to a political one, equally riddled with hidden enemies and land mines. America was in the midst of an ideological war in Korea and the Chinese were are thumping its own chest in a stance to create supremacy in the region. Smith weaves through some key early Cold War skirmishes that placed peace in the most precarious position, but also exemplified America's strong stance as a superpower that had tossed isolationism to the wayside. Perhaps Eisenhower's strong military background helped morph America into a watchdog, ready to pounce when it saw fit. Smith eludes to this repeatedly as Eisenhower remained firmly rooted into keeping the world from falling into the clutches of communists. Riddled with some health concerns, Eisenhower had to trust in his inner circle, a collection of powerful cabinet secretaries, to run things when he was convalescing, though Smith does not spin the narrative in such a way that the President was out of the loop at any point. Eisenhower was equally capable of running a tight ship on the domestic front, where he pushed through a plan to create an inter-state highway system that remains an essential part of travel within the continental United States. Equally important, Eisenhower used his presidential abilities to push early parts of the civil rights movement into reality, especially racial integration in southern schools. Smith presents a succinct narrative about the goings-on in Little Rock, Arkansas, which followed the Brown v. Board of Education rulings by the US Supreme Court. Eisenhower would not stand down, choosing to promote the constitution than seeking to appease the southern segregationists. This push towards equality and respect for the US Constitution lasted throughout Eisenhower's two terms in the Oval Office and helped to strengthen the importance of his peacetime leadership.

Smith uses the biography to address two further themes worth noting, which reemerge throughout the text. The first is best described as Eisenhower's fallible nature, more a man with faults than the god-like general that is depicted in the history texts. While no marriage to a soldier can be easy, the strain exemplified by both Ike and Mamie Eisenhower seems to have created numerous fissures that almost cost them their union. Smith discusses Mamie's long periods of loneliness that were only solved by regular drinking. This abuse exacerbated an already problematic situation of being apart for long periods of time. However, Ike was equally to blame when it came to strains on the marriage, having seeming found happiness in the arms of Kay Summersby, a member of Britain's Motor Transport Corps during the Second World War. Smith pulls no punches in presenting this amorous connection, though mentions that few early Eisenhower biographers focused too much on their connection, perhaps a sign of the times. That Eisenhower could foster such a connection to a woman other than his wife was only further strengthened in a letter Eisenhower sent to General Marshall around the time fighting ended in Europe. In it, Eisenhower ponders the possibility of a permanent position within the military hierarchy in Europe, thereby facilitating his ability to divorce Mamie and pursue Summersby. While this did not come to pass, it does come up throughout Smith's narrative and is worth a mention. A theme from the latter part of the biography that finds itself repeated would be the parallels Eisenhower draws between himself and General Ulysses S. Grant. It should be noted that Eisenhower did not seek to inflate his own ego in making this connection, but commented that they had both been powerful generals in prominent wars and ascended to the White House. Military men with no previous political involvement becoming Commanders-in-Chief for eight years, Eisenhower and Grant offered America the best they had to offer on the battlefield and when waging war with Congress. (As a side note, Smith has also written a comprehensive biography of Grant, though I have yet to read it, so these parallels might be partially of the author's making as he connects dots in the research he undertook with both tomes.) While neither man could be said to have surpassed the abilities of the other, Smith does offer numerous flashbacks to offer similarities in their decision-making processes at key points in their presidencies.

Jean Edward Smith has taken much time to develop and shape this biographical piece of Dwight D. Eisenhower. In it, the reader is treated to not only a plethora of information about the man, but also a cogent argument for his military and political greatness. Rising from the dirt on his Kansas farm, Eisenhower became one of the best-known Americans from the Second World War, who went on to further impact the world in a political capacity. Eisenhower gave his all to every decision he made and answered many of the callings presented to him, choosing never to take the easy path. Predominantly selfless, Eisenhower placed the greater whole before his own benefit while still being a leader at a time many might cower. Smith's biographical piece offers a wonderful sampling of the life and times of Dwight D. Eisenhower, showing Smith's superior abilities as it relates to telling a complete story while keeping the reader enthralled throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for another splendid presidential biography. I have a few more of yours to complete, but have not been disappointed up to this point.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:


For those familiar with this author’s previous books on John Marshall, U.S. Grant and FDR, you know Smith’s biographies are thorough and detailed narratives, filled with anecdotes and first-hand accounts, analyses of the historical record, some personal opinion, a little wit and – yes – lengthy. The books are also very readable and engaging. Eisenhower In War And Peace is no exception and a very worthy addition to this author’s legacy and - I won’t be the only one to note this – timely – particularly for those of us who weren’t around when Ike occupied the White House, let alone acting as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II.

Smith excels at bringing his subjects to “life” and one of the many ways he does this is through “balance”, both in chronology and judgment. In this book the author constructs a firm foundation of Eisenhower’s early life before he assumed the international stage. This evolution of Ike’s work habits – particularly while in uniform, Eisenhower was a workaholic - intellect, character and specifically his confidence, are all critical in understanding the military commander and political leader Eisenhower became. He learned from his mentors, including Fox Conner, Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall, and also did not hesitate to use these connections to pull strings when he felt he needed their assistance.

And though the author is a big fan of his subject he also doesn’t pull any punches when chronicling Ike’s mistakes, shortcomings or missteps. For instance borrowing a page from Max Hastings’ literary play-book, Smith has no problem making military judgments, i.e. Kasserine Pass in North Africa. Also Kay Somersby, Ike’s “driver” during WWII, is also covered extensively here. And although not “salacious”, Smith’s narrative makes it very clear the two were very close, regardless if the relationship was “physical” or not.

(On a side note, Bernard Montgomery is handled objectively here. Smith able to separate Monty’s difficult personality from his military talent/accomplishments – a distinction not many historians have been able to make.)

Although the myth that Eisenhower was simply Mr. Magoo has largely been dispelled, Smith does an excellent job reconfirming that Ike was much more than just a good-natured, bumbling administrator, focused on his next golf game, i.e. taking the “Peter Principle” to new heights. Eisenhower may not have been a military genius, but he was a supreme commander and leader of men. (It’s difficult imagining anyone else assuming the role he did as Allied Commander in WWII, let alone succeeding.) An expert delegator, Eisenhower had no qualms about making the difficult big decisions and taking the responsibility for them. This most famously evidenced when launching D-Day in June of 1944, but he did this time and time again throughout his career – Dien Bien Phu, the Suez Canal crisis and sending in the military to integrate Arkansas schools - just a few examples. (Ike’s ambivalence about Richard Nixon a notable exception.)

Eisenhower assuming the presidency was not an opportunistic “accident” and the country is a better place for his eight years in the White House. The operative term prevalent throughout this book – and possibly the biggest “eye-opener” for readers - is “learning”, for although Ike may have not been the definition of an intellectual, his brain was constantly working while he deliberated.

An excellent biography and highly recommended.

John Bellamy

Few reputations are more mutable than those of former U. S. presidents. I’m ancient enough to recall the contrasting images of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy that prevailed for several decades after they had passed from the scene: Eisenhower, likeable and grandfatherly but dim, disengaged and increasingly enfeebled; Kennedy, young, dynamic and ever open to fresh ideas and ways of doing things. Not coincidentally, Kennedy’s Camelot halo began dimming just about the time the scholarly reevaluation of Eisenhower’s worth began its upward surge with the 1982 publication of Fred I Greenstein’s startlingly revisionist Hidden-Hand: Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader. Those historiographical trends have accelerated in the 30 years since, especially as Kennedy’s conduct of both foreign (The Bay of Pigs fiasco, his humiliation by Khrushchev in Vienna, his equivocal handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis) and domestic (virtually all of Kennedy’s initiatives were stymied until Lyndon Johnson took office) policy have attracted increasingly harsh analyses. Ergo, premier biographer Jean Edward Smith is not the first to suggest that Eisenhower was a great president—but no one has ever made a more persuasive case for that proposition than Smith does in Eisenhower in War and Peace.
Smith is not an uncritical Ike idolater. There is ample evidence offered in Eisenhower to show that Eisenhower possessed not only ruthless ambition and a talent for dissimulation but likewise a penchant for covering up the often egregious mistakes he made during both his military and civilian careers. Smith’s analysis of the errors in Eisenhower’s major World War II campaigns—North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and the final push into Germany—is brutal, detailed and largely echoes the dismissive comment of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery on Eisenhower’s worth as a battlefield commander: “Nice chap—no soldier.” But, simultaneously, Smith consistently and convincingly supports the enduring conventional wisdom that Ike—and only Ike—with his matchless charm and unfailing talent for managing the competitive and often antagonistic personalities of the Allied coalition, could have so successfully led the “Crusade in Europe” that defeated Nazi Germany. Smith is no less critical of Eisenhower’s 3-year-plus affair with Kay Summersby, presenting overwhelming evidence that, notwithstanding strenuous denials by the General’s past and present partisans, it indeed occurred in the flesh. Especially to be savored is Smith’s tart characterization of Ike’s final “Dear John” letter to Summersby, a model of heartless epistolary impersonality: “FDR would have been incapable of writing such a missive, and George Patton would have said a warmer good-bye to his horse.”
Many of Smith’s criticisms of Eisenhower’s defects as a military leader are hardly new; indeed, most of them were made, if often off the record, by his World War II peers. The most valuable portion of Smith’s biography, however, comes in his chronicle of Eisenhower’s eight years as president. Some huge mistakes were made, and Smith is rightly critical of the Eisenhower-approved—if successful—CIA coups mounted in Guatemala and Iran. But he makes a convincing case that Eisenhower more often than not did the right thing, and sometimes against the advice of his “best and brightest.” Particularly praiseworthy was his exasperated retort to his National Security Advisor Robert Cutler, who on May 1, 1954, brought him the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the United States drop three atomic bombs on the Vietnamese army besieging French forces at Dien Bien Phu: “I certainly do not think that the atomic bombs can be used by the United States unilaterally. You boys must be crazy. We can’t use those awful things against Asians for the second time in less than ten years. My God.”
Smith also constructs an impressive defense of several Eisenhower presidency issues that remain subject to fierce contention: his decision not to confront Senator Joseph McCarthy publicly and his alleged lukewarm support for the nascent Civil Rights movement. Scholars and readers will continue to argue about these and other matters but Smith’s summary judgment is just, if containing a sting in its tail: “As president, Eisenhower restored stability to the nation. His levelheaded leadership ensured that the United States would move forward in measured steps under the rule of law at home and collective security abroad. His sensible admonition upon leaving office to be wary of the military-industrial complex was the heartfelt sentiment of a president who recognized the perils of world leadership. Eisenhower gave the country eight years of peace and prosperity. No other present in the twentieth can make that claim.” [my italics]
Stylistically, Smith’s prose, while prolonged (766 pages of text), is easy to read and frequently graced with diverting footnotes and illustrative quotations. My favorite of that latter is Ann Whitman’s diary entry of August 30, written following a talk with Eisenhower about his Vice President, Richard Nixon: “The president is a man of integrity and sincere in his every action. He radiates this, everybody knows it, and everybody loves and trusts him. But the Vice President sometimes seems like a man who is acting like a nice man rather than being one.”

robin friedman

Jean Edward Smith's Study Of Eisenhower

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890 -- 1969) served as the 34th President of the United States (1953 -- 1961) following his career as the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces during WW II. His presidency and his generalship have been the subject of varied assessments over the years. I was a child in the 1950s and my first memories of a president are of Eisenhower. To many younger Americans, he may remain an obscure historical figure. Jean Edward Smith's new large biography, "Eisenhower in War and Peace" (2012) is an extraordinarily detailed study of Ike's public and private life. Smith is senior scholar in the history department at Columbia University, where Eisenhower served briefly as president. He has written extensively on American history, including biographies of FDR, Ulysses Grant, and John Marshall.

Although the book consists of over 760 pages of text and an additional 150 pages of notes and bibliography, the narrative flow of the story is absorbing. Smith recounts complex military and
political history in a way both understandable and entertaining. His writing style, unbiased presentation, and detailed documentation made me inclined to trust his judgment. Throughout the study, Smith draws useful parallels between Eisenhower and other American military and political leaders. In particular, Smith often compares and contrasts Eisenhower with Grant in terms of decisiveness, relationship to subordinates, and military accomplishments. The most telling parallel lies in writing and in ability to communicate. Although not having the gift for words that Grant displayed in his Memoirs, Eisenhower was an excellent, clear writer, especially of his own war memoirs, and, when he wished to be, a skilled eloquent speaker.

Smith presents Eisenhower's strengths as a leader and as a person as well as his flaws. The overall impression of Eisenhower that emerges is of a strong, capable, politically masterful individual, as both general and president, who was "a man of principle, decency, and common sense, whom the country could count on to do what was right. In both war and peace he gave the world confidence in American leadership." Eisenhower's accomplishments are inspiring in an America which frequently seems to be floundering for a sense of purpose and balance. Smith aptly describes Eisenhower as a "progressive conservative" who believed that "traditional American values encompassed change and progress." Eisenhower's moderation, high sense of responsibility, and heroism will appeal to many readers.

The book begins with a perceptive treatment of Eisenhower's early life with its humble beginnings in Texas and Kansas. A military career and attendance at West Point were something of a surprise choice for Eisenhower as they had been for Grant. The first third of Smith's book describes Eisenhower's early life and the many seemingly interminable assignments Eisenhower held as a major in the peacetime army. Eisenhower showed a talent for hard work and for impressing his superiors. He developed an ability to advance himself subtly and to use his contacts with those who would help him. When the United States entered WW II, Eisenhower's rise was meteoric; but it had been prepared over a long course of time.

Smith shows Eisenhower as a political leader in WW II who had the daunting task of coordinating the allied effort against Germany and working with highly driven and egotistical leaders in the United States, France, and Britain. Eisenhower's tact and self-confidence were rare and essential qualities indeed. As a military strategist, Eisenhower had mixed results, but he made critical decisions regarding the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. Smith shows that Eisenhower richly deserved the accolades he received at the end of the war.

Following WW II, Eisenhower served as president of Columbia and as the commander of NATO before, with a show of reluctance, accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 1952. With the end of Eisenhower's presidency in 1961, many historians were critical; but Eisenhower's stature as president has grown with time. Smith finds Eisenhower the most successful 20th century president with the exception of FDR. Eisenhower kept the United States out of war, balanced the budget, and displayed firm, subtle leadership that was not always apparent to the public. He acted with care and prudence in Vietnam against the hawkish advice of his staff and he dealt effectively with crises in Berlin, China and elsewhere. (Some of his foreign policy ventures in Iran and Central America were ill-advised and unsuccessful.) In a non-divisive, non-confrontational way Eisenhower helped lead to the discrediting of the red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy. He built the national highway system and the St. Laurence Seaway. In 1956, following a heart attack and in the middle of a reelection campaign, Eisenhower showed courage in resolving the most controversial foreign policy issue in his presidency -- the Suez Canal crisis which pitted the United States against its allies, Britain, France, and Israel. In an understated, politic way, Eisenhower also did more to advance civil rights than is commonly acknowledged. His Justice Department argued before the Supreme Court in favor of school desegregation in the Brown cases. In 1958, Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a desegregation decree against the recalcitrant state governor.

Eisenhower's personal life and feelings remained an enigma even to those close to him. Smith's book concentrates on Eisenhower's long marriage to Mamie Doud and the difficulties the couple endured over the years. Smith also describes the long relationship Eisenhower had during WW II with a young British woman, Kay Summersby. It appears that at the end of WW II, Eisenhower wrote to George Marshall about his intention to divorce Mamie and marry Kay. Marshall disuaded him from this course in no uncertain terms, and Eisenhower ended the relationship in a callous, peremptory way.

This study of Eisenhower and of what was valuable and decent in him can bring hope and wisdom to a difficult time. Smith's study deserves and surely will receive a wide readership.

Robin Friedman


In this biographical tome, Jean Edward Smith presents Eisenhower as a complex tactician with a knack for administrative politics. This image of Ike is somewhat at odds with popular American history and the stereotypes surrounding his presidency and character. Did he golf a lot? Yes. Was his military career without blemishes? No. Was he an outsider president who lacked political insight? Absolutely not. In Eisenhower in War and Peace, the reader encounters the life of a man that weaves in and out of the some of the most remarkable events of the 20th Century. In many instances this man shaped those events and contributed to America's wartime success and postwar peace. As an overall moderate Ike understood how America could benefit global affairs as an ideal model for societies and orders. This is evident in Smith's depictions of WWII planning, early civil rights initiatives, 1950s diplomacy, and Ike's belief in utilizing the capacity of government stimulus to benefit the lives of the nation's citizens.

I found that Smith's thesis centers around Eisenhower's administrative prowess and his ability to keep cool in times of emergency as the substance behind his success. This overall argument presents some interesting conclusions as it relates to popular perceptions of the 34th president. For instance, Smith gives an evenhanded analysis of Ike's role in the Second World War. Successes and blunders are described along with the clear distinction that Ike was not a military-oriented commander. That role was left up to the likes of Patton, Bradley, and Montgomery. Eisenhower was a consensus builder and resource allocator who believed in the power of coalitions. This is evident in the tumultuous relationship with American field commanders, the closeness with Soviet counterparts, and the long lasting, mutual respect with de Gaulle. His presidential politics are also portrayed as pragmatic and not belonging to any specific ideology. Both the right and the left will have difficulty claiming him as their own since he did not seek to destroy the New Deal, sought to avoid deficit spending, had a pro-business cabinet, and seldom gave into the military's suggestions while in office. This treatment will do his memory a service as contemporary political perspectives are grouped into aggregate indexes rather than being based on derivative principles. Thank you Jean Edward Smith.

Smith's criticisms are also relevant and thought provoking. The occasional reliance on nepotism to progress through the Army's ranks came as a surprise. Implementing the CIA in Iran and Guatemala is no secret but covered in an appropriate way in this book. The embarrassment over Powers' U2 flight is appropriately described as a black eye to Eisenhower but left even handed as he sought to take responsibility for the outcome. These are a few of the noteworthy illustrations of Eisenhower's not quite perfect career that still resonate today (most notably Iran). As a result, the overall feel of this book is more objective. Some sections come off more adoring than they should but they fit within the main idea of Eisenhower being a administrative and pragmatic realist. Some biographies lack these sentiments. (See Smith's footnote concerning Stephen Ambrose's treatment of the events at Little Rock).

There is one theme that Smith does to the point of overkill: Kay Summersby. She was his driver/assistant whom he gave preferential treatment to and more than likely had an affair with. We got it. During the WWII chapters she is mentioned quite frequently and sometimes in an irrelevant context. Were all of the card games, late nights, picnics, and letters really necessary to include? Smith presents this relationship in a way that leaves little doubt when considering the possibility of an affair. Evan Thomas disagrees with Smith but also I feel compelled to ask, does the subject really deserve so many pages? The most relevant descriptions would be Gen. George Marshall's discussion with Ike about Summersby coming to America and the note that Truman supposedly kept as political blackmail. Other than that, put the rest in the footnotes.

That is a small criticism for such a good book. I'll close with an overall impression of Smith's writing. This is a facts-forward tale of the subject and his times. If you are looking for in depth analysis of Eisenhower's command style and policies, I would look elsewhere. This biography fits in with a more general narrative of the first half of the 20th Century. Eisenhower in War and Peace is a good starting place for the reader who wants to move forward and read more academic writing while having an understanding of the man's background, outlook, and leadership style.


Dwight D. Eisenhower seems at this distant remove a not terribly colorful American president. His term of office was an extraordinarily peaceful one and prosperity largely enveloped the country. So it is perhaps not surprising that many do not think of him as a particularly exciting leader. But this fine biography makes clear that this calm and methodical man was one of the most gifted leaders the country has ever known, and, between his remarkably wise guidance as commander of U.S. forces in World War II Europe and his nuanced juggling of the dangers of the Cold War as president, he is revealed as a most dramatic and remarkable figure on the world stage. A staunch Republican, Eisenhower nonetheless rejected reactionary ideas and was the first to state clearly the dangers of business becoming too entrenched in government and the defense of the nation. Not a gifted battlefield commander, his flair was in management and political subtleties during his military career, and these same gifts served him remarkably as president. A man who left the presidency even more popular than when he began, Eisenhower's career and personality are rewarding studies, and Jean Edward Smith has done a splendid job illuminating them. His prose is imminently readable and compelling, his research apparently precise and assiduous. This book is highly recommended for anyone who cares to have a clear impression of the conduct of the war in the European theater or of the dynamics of the Cold War and the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. It is as vital, forthright, and finely organized as was the man who is its subject.

Brian Eshleman

This book offers almost 1000 pages on Eisenhower, and I did not feel like I knew him. Good biographies offer such an intimate portrait of the subject's psyche that the reader knows how he or she would react in a different situation, OR they provide such a detailed, textual portrayal of the subject's times that the reader feels like he or she was present in them. Great biographies offer both. This one falls short on both counts.

Eisenhower is so magisterial and fascinating that whatever fraction of him I was able to take and is still worth three stars. I found the man, for instance, not entirely wedded to the military. He chose this as a career option because it was the only way to get a college education. At the other end of his career, from the beginning of his presidency, he was skeptical of the military establishment's claims of absolute need. Warnings about the military-industrial complex, while a memorable part of his farewell address from public life, were evident throughout his presidency as he challenged career officers to reconsider budgeting priorities and their lockstep commitment to a large standing military force. This commitment, warned the former five-star general, is stealing both resources and talent from badly needed peacetime pursuits.

I also learned that this biographer was not the only person who had a difficult time getting close to Eisenhower. He even had a somewhat distant relationship with his wife after they both suffered through the death of their young son and then work called further apart by the nature of Eisenhower's career and the far-flung stationing it required.

SECOND READING: Double down on the above..

John Bohnert

This biography of Ike gave me a new understanding of Eisenhower as a general and later as president. I admire Ike very much as a result.


Usually when it comes to popular biographies of major historical figures, there's a question of why exactly another biography is necessary after umpteen thousand volumes have been written on the subject. And there are certainly no lack of books on Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a general or as President, but in this case the 'why' is clear. The most influential Eisenhower biographer is Stephen Ambrose, whose writings on DDE included eye-popping revelations like Eisenhower's private doubts about integration: "These are not bad people [in the South]. All they are concerned about is that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big black bucks."

That quote is famous and probably a fraud. Ambrose based many 'discoveries' on private conversations with the retired President, and those discoveries were widely accepted until Ambrose's fraud was revealed in 2010. Eisenhower In War And Peace is one of the first major biographies to take this into account, and is worthwhile for that reason alone: if you're a student of modern American history, you've probably been misinformed by Ambrose either first- or second-hand.

So fine, you might be saying, the book is not a deliberate deception; is there something else to recommend it? Well, Jean Edward Smith is a competent, generally comprehensive biographer. Eisenhower is not one of the memorable personalities to inhabit the White House, like Nixon or LBJ or (IMO) Bill Clinton; but he was more devious than commonly believed, and was once memorably described by a journalist as a cold man who appeared warm when he smiled for the cameras. And although this is a long book, Smith is brisk as well as comprehensive (no 100 pages of childhood traumas, thank god) and he's compelling on the most famous bits (D-Day, Suez, Little Rock).

I disagreed with Smith's generally cheery assessment of the Eisenhower presidency, however. Perhaps it's a biographer's failing, but he gives DDE way too much credit on civil rights and foreign policy. Eisenhower may not have been privately rooting for segregation, as previously believed; but DDE was no civil rights activist, in either words or deeds. He famously committed troops to Little Rock to enforce a court order integrating a local high school, and less famously appointed a number of pro-civil rights judges and Justice Department attorneys that worked tirelessly in the South. But Eisenhower himself was indifferent enough on the issue that he almost appointed John W. Davis, attorney for segregation in Brown v. Board, to the Supreme Court; and his policy of 'all deliberate speed' only integrated 1% of the schools in the South by 1961. What was needed was real civil rights legislation, and Eisenhower was more interested in preaching patience to black people than pursuing the kind of laws that did eventually make a real difference.

And Eisenhower's legacy on foreign policy--his area of expertise--leaves much to be desired as well. Like his successor Barack Obama, DDE's desire to cut the military budget inspired a love for covert aggression with a small budgetary footprint; and also like Obama, Eisenhower appreciated the complexities of foreign affairs but operated within the narrow confines of the foreign policy consensus. So while Eisenhower recognized that Third World countries often pursued neutralist foreign policy and socialist economic policies for defensible and even admirable reasons, his administration too often responded to Third World nationalism with brute force. For this reason, he authorized coups against Mossadegh in Iran (writing in his diary that his sole goal was to keep the oil flowing) and Guatemala, as well as failed CIA-led insurrections in Indonesia and the Bay of Pigs. In Egypt, an ailing Eisenhower permitted John Foster Dulles to cancel US funding for the Aswan Dam, prompting Nasser to nationalize the Suez canal and enter into a strategic partnership with the Soviet Union. And while he did not commit American troops to Vietnam, he put American prestige behind the proposition that a unified communist Vietnam was 'unacceptable' (even though he knew that Ho Chi Minh was vastly more popular than any South Vietnamese leader). On a global scale, Eisenhower was responsible for stabilizing relations between the Soviets and the West into a chilly modus vivendi; but his administration did not act as if there was any other choices.

Still, Eisenhower is generally beloved, and shows up high on presidential rankings for good reason. The Eisenhower era was a time of general peace and prosperity, and Eisenhower himself (a progressive 'modern conservative') was a figure who often rose above the left-right divide. (In fact, Eisenhower was often closer to leading Democrats than to many of the Republicans in Congress.) His most famous domestic accomplishment was the interstate highway system, a non-partisan accomplishment that's hard to find fault with. He's also responsible for dramatically expanding the scope of Social Security while decreasing the debt. Eisenhower's all-American persona seemed to embody the spirit of the times, but it was a mask for a savvy, often duplicitous man. Smith's conclusions don't always agree with mine, but he is effective at lifting that mask.



Published in 2012, “Eisenhower in War and Peace” is Jean Edward Smith’s third presidential biography (following “Grant” in 2001 and “FDR” in 2007). Smith taught political science at the University of Toronto for 35 years and at Marshall University for 12 years. His most recent (and controversial) biography “Bush” was published in July 2016.

The first comprehensive biography of Eisenhower in a decade, Smith’s review of the 34th president is lengthy (with 766 pages) and occasionally exhausting. But rarely is it dull, and the author’s enthusiasm for his subject infuses nearly every page of this well-documented book.

Smith rates Eisenhower as one of the two most successful of twentieth-century presidents (behind only FDR) and covers his personal foibles and battlefield failures with candor and clarity. But he is unfailingly complimentary toward Eisenhower’s two-term presidency. And in the end, the character who emerges from this book is ambitious, flawed, an excellent politician and a capable (if not quite great) president…but stubbornly enigmatic.

Smith devotes half the book to Eisenhower’s military career versus about one-quarter to his presidency. Many readers will puzzle at this imbalance but Ike’s pre-presidency is where the book shines brightest. The author vividly and thoroughly describes his steady march from West Point cadet to Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. And no reader will miss how Eisenhower’s military career well-prepared him for the presidency.

Eisenhower’s military career was punctuated by frequent moves, invaluable mentors and relentless behind-the-scenes maneuvering. But while this period of his life provides a seemingly endless array of captivating stories, these fifteen chapters sometimes feel long and overly detailed.

In contrast to discussion of his military career, the eight-year Eisenhower presidency is organized topically and not chronologically. As a consequence, readers unfamiliar with American history during the 1950s will learn a great deal about the decade’s most important moments but may be unsure of (or flatly confused by) their sequencing.

This portion of the biography often seems strangely organized, with occasional non sequiturs. In one instance, no sooner has Smith introduced the reader to legendary House Speaker Sam Rayburn than he launches – without pausing or providing a segue – into a discussion of Eisenhower’s interstate highway initiative.

But this book’s high points far outweigh its shortcomings and any committed reader will find much to enjoy and absorb. Smith is excellent when incorporating new characters into the dialogue and in the case of General Marshall even provides an astute comparison of Eisenhower’s attributes with those of his fascinating one-time mentor.

And continuing a style exhibited in his earlier biography of FDR, Smith liberally incorporates insightful and often detailed footnotes into the text. Some readers will be tempted to skip over these but they consistently add important flavor and context to the narrative.

Overall, Jean Edward Smith’s biography of Dwight Eisenhower is a revealing, detailed and colorful look at a man described by many (including his wife) as mysterious and somewhat unknowable. And while Smith’s intention in writing this biography seems to have been burnishing Eisenhower’s presidential legacy, the man described here is less great and more wonderfully complex, interesting and human than may have been intended.

Overall rating: 4¼ stars